Lying about… artist Ellsworth Kelly

When I bought Ellsworth Kelly stamps at the post office, I lied and pretended I knew who he was. The clerk expressed his surprise that they’d put out the Kelly stamps so quickly–he’d died fairly recently.

“Oh, that’s true,” I said.

In college, the teachings of Socrates inspired me to stop pretending I knew things in order to look smarter. Instead, I decided to just ask. I might look ignorant, but it would be better for me in the long term.

Asking is better than looking something up online later; you get a human perspective that’s missing from Wikipedia. Sometimes, also, you realize that other people don’t always know what they’re talking about.

Since I didn’t ask the clerk, I had to look up Ellsworth Kelly myself.

Kelly led a long life, made tons of art, and passed away in 2015. The single awesomest thing I learned about him? He was part of a WWII unit called “The Ghost Army,” which deceived the Germans into thinking there were allied armies where there were none. PBS made a documentary about it–I know the next documentary I’m watching.

More on skipping dessert

No. I don’t want dessert (an open letter).

How to Politely Pass on Dessert

I found both of these articles after I wrote “Are you sure you don’t want any?” Both the author and commenters on “How to Politely Pass on Dessert” are apparently much more considerate than I am–I hadn’t been thinking of this situation as a difficult one, just an annoying one. I expect others to accept a no-frills “no, thank you” as an answer. Not only do I not owe anyone an explanation, I’ve learned that it’s worse to give one–people try to counter your reasons, which is annoying when you have more than one reason, or just want to pass on dessert without telling someone your entire life story, dessert preferences, and digestive health. The article does have some good tips for people who aren’t quite as socially obtuse and uncompromising as I am.

The open letter spoke to me a lot more. I ended up focusing my own piece on the social aspects of one particular question, but a lot of what he wrote echoes parts that I took out of mine. In short: I’m picky about food, and I’m just not going to bother eating something unhealthy if I don’t truly love it.

Are you sure you don’t want any?

It is a white-frosted cake edged with ripples and poofs of day-glo aqua created from an unfathomable amount of food dye. “Happy Birthday” is written in perfect school teacher penmanship, in some sort of color-coordinated bright shade that would make the 80s proud. And of course, there are handfuls of thick, round sprinkles, in case you needed to be bludgeoned over the head with the overall message: this is a festive fucking occasion.

I don’t want any cake.

Yes, I am sure, thank you. I don’t need to reexamine this decision.

It’s not about the cake. It’s not about the calories or sugar, or even the wheat, which I don’t digest well. It’s about you questioning my decision, which is among the most inconsequential decisions I will make in my life. Maybe I’m not actually sure? Maybe I haven’t thought it through enough? Maybe I should text a friend and see what they think.

Chocolate ganache sandwich cookies with red and pink M&Ms

Although it’s not limited to women, a lot of women are socialized to ask this, and in name of being a good host, to push food in general. I wasn’t socialized this way, and it’s not my personality either. I’m way on the other end of the spectrum: I forget to introduce people properly, and to offer them water or stale gluten-free granola bars until they’ve been over for hours.

But asking “are you sure you don’t want any?” isn’t hospitality; the dish has clearly already been offered at least once. That was hospitality. “Are you sure?” is pushiness disguised in a hideous leisure suit of unwanted fruit salad.

And yes, I see that you are putting the pile-of-pudding-and-Cool-Whip-thing in the fridge where it will be inaccessible for all time. Since I didn’t want any before, its sudden inavailability is a moot point.

On a similar note: yes, I’m sure I don’t want a seat. I drove to get here; I’ve already been sitting. “Are you sure?” is definitely not limited to one thing, which is why I didn’t add cake, alcohol, or children to the post title.

Don’t even try to turn something down if your weight is anywhere in the same solar system as skinny. At the lower end of my general weight range, it’s not enough for cake-pushers to ask, “Are you sure you don’t want any?” at minute-and-a-half intervals. At the lower end, they also add, “But you’re so skinny.”

The wise ass part of my brain would always think, “Yeah, I’m skinny because I’m not eating the cake.”

“Skinny” is an adjective that gets thrown at women below a certain weight, whether or not it’s an accurate term. You should eat the cake because you’re skinny. I’m not skinny, and in fact, have a fair amount of muscle. But that doesn’t matter either. Skinny people can turn down cake too.

And I still don’t want the cake.

If I say, “Next week I’m going to hop a train with nothing but a backpack, a notebook, and a toothbrush,” you should probably ask if I’m sure. You could say that it sounds like quite an adventure, but am I sure? Have I considered that the day-to-day of this might not be as romantic as it sounds, and that water is heavy but also necessary, and oh hey, that I have a kid?

If I say, “Tomorrow I’m going to go get a face tattoo so I can emulate my favorite Star Trek character, Chakotay,” you should question this too. Feel free to ask if Chakotay really is my favorite character, really, and if a face tattoo is the best way to pay him homage, and even if it is, is there the tiniest chance that a face tattoo will negatively impact a lot of the rest of my life?

If I say, “I am going to get a mountain lion as a pet,” you should absolutely feel free to ask if I’m sure, and to point out that I’m not big on cats, and that some aspects of this plan might need a little work, even if, technically, the lease allows us to have a cat.

But it’s not a major life decision or a ridiculous plan. It’s a pan of brownies. The top is shiny and crackly in the way that brownies from a mix usually are. Some of them have been mounded up on a paper plate in a heap that is several steps shy of decorative. Which doesn’t make them bad, but I don’t want any. Even if you don’t want to bring home most of a pan of brownies because you will be tempted to eat them all, and you didn’t substitute the applesauce for canola oil like Weight Watchers said, dammit, I don’t want them.

I am sure.

I am still sure, even though you asked again. The brownies are not my problem.

I am sure.

Snowfall

Snowfall mutes the world. It dulls the machinescape that is modern life, even in a small town. It makes familiar places foreign while softening rough edges and concealing the ugly and the industrial.

Walking through the snow is at once a return home, and a journey to a new frontier. Blanketed in austere sameness, old favorite trails become the haunts of frigid spirits, repetitive mazes where it could be all too easy to become lost. In the loneliness of snowfall, you can say words aloud that you never have before, and the wind carries them between towering pines, and they are lost.

Snow-covered New England Village

Quaint snow-covered villages are a New England specialty, and also its chief export commodity. If you buy yours from elsewhere, expect the same plastic seams as a bootleg Ninja Turtle.

When the snow falls, I am like a spy in a foreign country. Everyone cries out against the tyranny of snow—it makes us shovel, it makes us cold, we must clear our cars, we hate it, we hate it—but I am at home under the rule of snow. When the foreigners around me decry the snow, call for its execution under the rays of the spring sun, I halfheartedly raise a fist. “Grrr… snow. Yeah, down with snow. Or something. I guess.”
Unless I’m in the mood for a conversation. Unless I have the energy for a conversation.

* * *

Would you like to join a secret club? There aren’t many of us. No matter the differences in age or opinions or any trait you can think of, we are bonded by a love of the cold. There is an instant kinship between those of us who come alive when the world is frozen; when everyone else complains about roads and gloomy skies, the two people who say, “I like the cold,” and “same here,” know that they are kindred spirits. And they can laugh about how people are always telling them to put a jacket on.

* * *

Frozen didn’t convey the same sense of wintery-ness that I felt reading The Snow Queen as a kid. But it was a good piece of pro-snow propaganda, and I liked the parts where no one wore jackets when they probably should have. I got through one July reading A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin and fervently telling myself, “Winter is coming. Winter is coming. Winter is coming.” And then it kind of didn’t.

* * *

Anyway, it’s in the mid to high seventies outside now, and that’s about all I can take.